FanPost

Phoenix Suns Analysis: The Early Returns

The NBA schedule is in full swing – even if some of the players and/or teams aren’t. The schedule is frenzied. The play has been sloppy. A concomitant circumstance of the truncated, compressed schedule is the frenetic pace and volume of basketball stories and information available. Being an avid fan, I would like to contribute to that glut. Doesn’t anybody else get the feeling that diligently keeping up with the Suns and BSOTS is more of a full-time job labor of love than usual?

The Suns (like the rest of the league) have been a mixed bag. Inconsistency has been the rule. There have been moments exhilarating and intervals despairing. The chat boards have been flooded in turn with elated and crestfallen zealots. That’s a lot like the Suns any year, so shouldn’t it be expected to follow form now?

Here are some early impressions (and depressions – let’s face it, lots of depressions). Not because it’s necessarily an appropriate time to give out an official report card informal critique, but because I have the time today, because I’m sure that at least one other person on this site might be interested in my thoughts, and because some level of catharsis seems prudent after last night’s frustrating performance against the resurgent Cavaliers.

Scoring

The Suns entered the season without a volume scorer. They knew it. We knew it. What has resulted from this infirmity been even more pronounced than most of us would have considered. Consider this:

A Suns player has not led a game in field goal attempts yet this season. In 9 of the 10 games, the opposing team had at least 2 players with as many or more field goal attempts as the leader on the Suns.

Suns opponents have attempted 37 more free throws than the Suns, 3.7 attempts per game. The Suns have only attempted more free throws than their opponent twice. It has been worse recently, as the Suns opponents are +35 fta for the last 5 games – 7 attempts per game.

The Suns have only had three players score 20 points in a game this season (Lopez -21, Nash – 21, Gortat – 22), and none of them has duplicated the feat. So not only have the Suns only had a player score 20 points 3 times in 10 games, but they don’t have a single player who has scored at least 20 twice this season. The Suns are the only team in the NBA who doesn’t have a player who has scored at least 24 points in a game.

All of these deficiencies speak volumes to the effect that not only do the Suns lack a true scorer, they have nothing remotely close to one. Being unselfish is one thing, but the Suns leading scorer is averaging 12.8 ppg. Shannon Brown is leading the Suns in field goal attempts per minute (not counting Telfair or Redd due to miniscule sample size) and is shooting 33.7%. The disdain for Brown’s early season performance, and subsequently his style of play in general, has already been well documented by a large segment of BSers including the controlling authority of a certain powerful coalition. Unfortunately Brown’s paltry shooting percentage isn’t the Mendoza line on the team, that dubious honor belongs to Grant Hill (33.0%) among players with a significant contribution.

Is there hope? Probably not. Nash and Hill used to be more accomplished scorers, but those days are behind them now. Redd could be a salve. He shot without compunction in his first game, jacking up 7 three point shots in only 19 minutes. If he is healthy and can still play there will be no shortage of shots for him due to the deference of his running mates. Gortat seems the other most likely candidate. He’s shooting 62.1% from the field (with an early season injury), which makes me speculate that he’s not forcing a whole lot of shots. The Suns need to get him the ball more and he needs to be more aggressive.

The Suns will struggle with this all season. They may not have a closer on this roster, but right now I’d settle for a couple players who could at least score consistently for the first three quarters and contribute 15-18 per night. Some things will almost surely improve. The Suns are only shooting 32.2% from three point range and have only made double digit threes in one game so far. Those shots will start falling. The Suns will shoot a couple teams out of the building.

Rebounding

Following the status quo, the Suns are once again in need of Windex. The Suns are tied for 3rd to last in rebounding differential (-4.2). They have lost the battle of the boards 8 times in 10 games. They have been outrebounded by at least 8 boards on 6 occasions.

Is anyone else a little consternated by this trend? How are the Suns this bad at rebounding? There is an innate quality involved in rebounding, but a lot of it is effort and execution. The Suns should not be at the bottom of the pile if they are sedulous in their approach to this facet.

Defense

The Suns are ninth in points against (93.2) and field goal percentage against (43.2%). The Suns are tied for 14th in the league in defensive efficiency with 99.5 points per 100 possessions. There has been significant improvement in this category. Kudos to Turner and to the team for their effort. Keep up the good work.

Coaching

Nash is second on the team in minutes per game. The strategy is to limit minutes to keep players fresh for the second half of the season, but Nash is playing the second most minutes…. I have already advocated that Gentry should institute mandatory days off as a way to rest players instead of limiting playing time per game. I still like the idea of a rotation where a different player has the night off every game. I’m probably wrong, but my opinion is that this would be more effective at resting Nash. Whether he plays 25 minutes or 35 minutes he still has to rev up the motor and take some lumps. 66 games at 30 minutes per game or 60 games at 33 minutes per game is the same number of total minutes for the season. What do you think would keep Nash fresher - 3 minutes per game or 6 nights off on back-to-backs?

Since my first idiotic radical idea is unlikely to come to fruition, I hope my second concern is at least addressed. Gentry needs to start finding which combinations of players are effective together and giving them more minutes together and in general. The season is early. Some players are still being test-driven. Before too long, it will come to a point where players who are underperforming (Brown) need to see less playing time and players who are doing well (Gortat, Morris) need more minutes. There is no rule that says Gentry has to give minutes to 10 players every night. Continuing to give playing time to ineffective players just to blindly follow a dogma that 10 players must play between 20-28 minutes a night for salutary reasons does not seem like a successful strategy. After the feeling out stage is over, I really hope Gentry shrinks the rotation to 8 or 9 if he isn’t getting quality minutes from Childress’s checker club.

Player Reviews

Nash – Still playing at an all-star level, however, age is every man’s master. Steve isn’t as much of a scorer as he was in his prime and can’t take over games in the fourth quarter like years past. The area of his game that seems as sharp as ever, distributing, is hindered by the lack of dynamic finishers on the team. Nash’s talent is not being maximized by the current roster.

Hill – While still playing good defense, his atrocious start on the offensive end has already almost assured that he will have his lowest marks for a season as a Sun for field goal percentage and scoring. Eventually everyone hits a wall, this may be Grant’s...

Gortat – He has been the Suns best player this season besides Nash. He does everything a center should – scoring, rebounding, blocks, defense. The only area I would like to see improvement in is becoming more aggressive at looking for his shot. He will need help with this, because he can’t shoot without the ball.

Dudley – So far the Dudley starting experiment has had underwhelming returns. I don’t question the effort, but effort doesn’t always translate into results. Dudley is the epitome of the Suns offensive struggles – leading the team in minutes played, but sagging below recent shooting percentages and only scoring 10.7 ppg. It appears maybe the Suns are asking Dudley to be something he’s not (or giving him an opportunity he’s not capable of taking advantage of). Dudley may well be best suited for a role off the bench where he is only counted on for exuberance and defense, not consistent offense.

Frye – He struggled shooting and was a rebounding dynamo. He regained his touch and was a rebounding dud. Frye is more important to the Suns when he’s spreading the floor than cleaning the glass, but if he could at least put up competent rebounding numbers to go with his streaky shooting it would be a boon. Frye probably won between 5-10 games single handedly for the Suns last year. So far this year by my count it’s 0.

Morris – The rook has impressed. He appears to be fairly NBA ready. He rebounds well and can stretch the court. If things continue as they currently adumbrate, Morris should garner more minutes and even possibly crack the starting rotation soon.

Lopez – Since teasing us with 21 and 7 in the opener, Rolo has been averaging about 3 points and 3.5 rebounds a game. So much for his palingenesis… He’s not getting consistent minutes, but he’s also not doing a whole lot to earn consistent minutes in the time he is playing. Robin remains a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma with his future as a Sun widely in doubt.

Horus – (ancient Egyptian god of sky and war) Despite providing much needed scoring to begin the season, Horus has seen his role begin to shrink. It seems he is not being used to maximum advantage on a team with obvious offensive difficulties. Then again, his defense being a sieve doesn’t help either.

Brown – What can Brown do for you? Stop jacking up Pietrus-esque long range shots and playing out of control. Some of this may be linked to coaching, but it seems that Brown is not playing to his strengths and is instead playing himself right out of the rotation.

Redd – Too early to tell much. We know he can shoot, the question is can he play?

Price – The latest in a long line of back-up point guards to wilt and die in the shadow cast by Steve’s greatness.

Telfair – Lost the battle for back-up point guard minutes to Price. Enough said.

Childress – Loves the bench.

And I’m spent….

I like 7footer's astute recognition of PHXgp's terse statement "the Phoenix Suns looked simultaneously like an aging squad and a young, inexperienced one." I think that nicely sums up not just the loss to the Cavs, but the season in general to this point.

Besides the team’s glaring issues with respect to age, speed, athleticism, scoring, rebounding, and overall talent things don’t really seem too bad.

The Suns are an Eric Gordon jumper away from being a .500 team. It is possible the Suns are on the precipice of a meteoric rise where they will produce galvanic, coruscating statistics that will offset the woeful early returns and bring the total picture back to a much sunnier disposition. Risen from the ashes, so to speak. 10 games is still a small sample. The Suns are getting their legs. Players need to settle into defined roles. Rotations need to be set. The problem is that every other team is facing the same obstacles, so just as the Suns have a chance to improve as the season progresses, so does everyone else.

I still think this team will compete for a playoff spot. The Nash era Suns have always had flaws. Most of the previous versions just had more areas of strength. These Suns are doing good things like playing more stalwart defense and taking care of the basketball (7th in turnovers). I’m not always the most sanguine person. Tomorrow’s promises don’t put food on today’s plate. But I’m also not ready to count out Steve and the Suns just yet.

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